EV Tech Advancing Faster Than Predicted

Rich Jefferson

Paul Eichenberg is an engineer, automotive technologist, and industry strategist from Detroit. What appears to be implacably bad news to automotive suppliers, looks to him like an opportunity to make a new path to success. 

When audiences hear Eichenberg present his research on the rapidly approaching electrification of the global automotive fleet, they are prone to strong reactions. Often, that reaction is to shoot the messenger. 

His passion is to advise the companies who are committed to travel forward, studying the horizon for signs of events and trends they can plan for. Others, the ones who spend their time gazing longingly in the rearview mirror, are a different matter. 

As Eichenberg frames it, his motivation is to support companies anticipating the future and fervently wishing to avoid becoming the buggy whip manufacturers of the 21st Century. He feels time is short for suppliers who sell parts into a market for internal combustion engines and drive trains. “If I have a choice to help five companies who say, ‘Help me help myself with this inevitable disruption’ and 500 who are unconvinced of inevitability of vehicle electrification, I’m going to help the five.” Why? 

Eichenberg says the time and energy necessary to truly aid the five who are aware they want help, is roughly equal to the time and energy necessary to persuade the unconvinced 500.  Whether you feel you are one of the five who sees the imminent threat or one of the many in denial, consider the following. 

Modern Casting covered many trends necessary for North America to switch from internal combustion engine (ICE) automobiles to electric vehicles (EVs). We raised serious questions about the current charging infrastructure in the U.S. along with charging time required, and the capacity of EV battery cells to provide an acceptable driving range.

Some of these are resolving much faster than was thought possible even several months ago. Eichenberg points out private companies that want market share are constructing the necessary charging infrastructure. Charging times are plummeting, led by Tesla technology, and the laws of exponential technology growth in battery technology have suddenly taken us where no one thought we would go, at least this fast. 

Less than a year ago, experts estimated manufacturers could count on generating a kilowatt hour from a battery by 2030 at the cell level for $100. Don’t look now, but that technology is here. According to a story published by Reuters in May, “The new ‘million mile’ battery at the center of Tesla’s strategy was jointly developed with China’s Contemporary Amperex Technology Ltd (CATL) (300750.SZ) …” 
Amperex Technology is producing battery packs generating power “below $80 per kilowatt-hour, with the cost of the battery cells dropping below $60 per kilowatt-hour,” according to the article.  
To make sure we understand the force of this information, Reuters reports “Auto industry executives have said $100/kWh for battery packs is the level at which electric vehicles reach rough parity with internal combustion competitors.” 

Let that sink in.

“I fell out of my chair when I read that,” Eichenberg said. 

Sudden advances in battery technology are only one area of EV development undergoing surprising advance at a furious pace. Three years ago, experts thought they were making an optimistic forecast when they said an EV motor, gearbox and inverter would cost $1,800 in 2030. It’s already dropped to $1,000, Eichenberg said.  

We already knew there would be fierce competition among and between metal processes as a result of EVs. Eichenberg foresees industry-wide troubles, with an 80-90% reduction in forgings and a 60-70% loss of castings in the auto industry. Another way to put this for metalcasters is the average 6-cylinder internal combustion engine vehicle has $650 castings but an EV has less than $200 of castings. 

As companies define their future in this context, it will not only be metal processes competing against metal processes.

With a 30% projected reduction in resins and plastics necessary to build an electric car, “plastics will attack the market for metal castings as well,” Eichenberg says. This includes gas tanks, fuel lines, fluid reservoirs, hoses, intake manifolds “and they have not yet started to look at the thermal management” mechanisms.

Maybe your friends aren’t driving Teslas, and maybe you don’t know anyone who owns an EV. Regardless, by 2030 at least one out of four cars around the world will be an EV. If we’ve learned anything from using 2030 as a target date, it’s to mistrust it. Technology can push arrival times with greater dispatch than we first predicted.  

Eichenberg does not want to be Dr. Doom, although Modern Casting readers might disagree. He believes in U.S. manufacturing, and he wants to help companies who want help through the incredible technological disruption we happen to find ourselves in. He just wants us to look ahead and make plans to cope with the unavoidable march of technology. 

On a final note, lest I be accused of being a turncoat, I drive a hybrid. My choice of personal transportation harms no metalcaster.